A team led by Pennsylvania State University researcher John Asbury, assistant professor of chemistry, has developed a new analytical technique that uses infrared spectroscopy to study light-sensitive organic materials. In other words, Penn State’s research could lead to the development of cheaper, more efficient solar cells, another milestone in the ever-increasing usability and reliability of solar power.

The technique uses infrared (IR) spectroscopy to analyze vibrations within the material. The information this produces is invaluable to the development of the organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices, which cost much less to produce than silicon-based solar cells.

“The problems with OPVs today are that they are not efficient enough, and they tend to stop working over time,” Asbury said. In order to develop a useful electric current, the flow between the two components must be optimized. “To improve performance, we need to understand what happens at the molecular level when light is converted to electrons,” he said.

In other solar cell news, Alexander Karsner, assistant secretary for the Department of Energy (DOE), announced a concentrator solar cell—produced by Boeing-Spectrolab with the help of the DOE—has recently achieved a world-record conversion efficiency of 40.7 percent, establishing a new milestone in sunlight-to-electricity performance.

This breakthrough may lead to systems with an installation cost of only $3 per watt, producing electricity at a cost of 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, making solar electricity a more cost-competitive and integral part of our nation’s energy mix.

“Reaching this milestone heralds a great achievement for the Department of Energy and for solar energy engineering worldwide,” Karsner said. “We are eager to see this accomplishment translate into the marketplace as soon as possible, which has the potential to help reduce our nation’s reliance on imported oil and increase our energy security.”

Currently, solar cell modules only achieve an efficiency of 12 to 18 percent. They do not concentrate sunlight but use only what the sun produces naturally. With this development, solar cell modules become a more feasible power technology.

This leads to the further development of solar power as a reliable source of energy. As the technology’s efficiency increases and its costs decrease, more customers will seek installation.     EC